[OPE] [Jurriaan on] value of labour power and unequal exchange

From: GERALD LEVY <gerald_a_levy@msn.com>
Date: Sat Dec 26 2009 - 18:25:05 EST

> From: adsl675281@telfort.nl
> To: gerald_a_levy@msn.com
> CC: glevy@pratt.edu
> Subject: value of labour power and unequal exchange
> Date: Sat, 26 Dec 2009 23:41:13 +0100
> Personally I think you should keep these things in mind:
> 1) When Marx refers to the value of labour power vis-a-vis surplus value, as
> a component of the aggregate value product, he is just talking about an
> "economic relationship" based essentially on relative proportions of
> labour-time, quite irrespective of price fluctuations in wage levels and
> irrespective of the forms of labour-remuneration. The value of labour-power
> is neither a Sraffian bundle of wage-goods, or a Temporalist money-wage, but
> rather the relative quantity of average labour-time implicated in the normal
> maintenance cost of the worker.
> 2) Unproductive labour in the economic sense is simply labour which
> functions exclusively to conserve the value of capital, or effect the
> transfer the value of already existing capital through
> exchange-transactions, which from a societal point of view (the aggregate
> point of view) make no net new addition to the total stock of capital - it
> only preserves the value of capital, or redistributes already existing
> capital. Again this is a purely economic relationship. The exploitation of
> so-called unproductive labour is expressed by the fact that it can also
> yield a profit from surplus labour performed, since the income generated
> from its utilisation is in excess of its cost, yet is more than balanced out
> by the loss in the value of capital which would occur, if it was not
> performed. We have to distinguish sharply here however between the "value"
> represented by materially objectified assets involving a certain quantity of
> labour time, and "prices" which may pertain either to materially objectified
> assets or to assets which are only a property right, a right to trade or an
> entitlement to an income (financial assets). Claims to material wealth may
> obviously arise which are completely unrelated to the production of material
> wealth. As I emphasized on OPE-L, Marx's value theory claims that value
> relationships exist independently of price relationships, even although they
> impact on each other.
> 3) Marx never performed a comprehensive analysis of the labour market or the
> forms of wages, which is a gaping hole in his analysis - not of his analysis
> of capital or the capitalist mode of production, but of capitalist society,
> of bourgeois society as a whole. For the purpose of analysing the "deep
> structure" of the capitalist mode of production "in its ideal average", wage
> differentials do not alter the argument one iota, but in the real world of
> bourgeois society, wage differentials do matter a great deal, and do
> determine its future. If Marx did not pursue this in depth, it is I think
> just because he was confident that it did not alter significantly the
> trajectory of the capitalist mode of production or its basic social
> structure (the evidence of this interpretation is Marx's assertion that
> capital simply engineers ways to buy any kind of labour as it sees fit, and
> that he saw the form of labour-remuneration as a contingent matter which has
> no bearing on the essence of capital accumulation). He could be wrong about
> that.
> As regards unequal exchange, the thing that matters here, is what exactly is
> being traded and what is being equated, and there we have to distinguish
> between the "formal-legal" aspects of it, and the substantive economic
> relationship involved.
> If labour-power trades at its value, it is economically an "equal exchange"
> provided we accept that, in an economic sense, what is being traded is
> labour-power, not living labour; the remuneration then simply reflects
> accurately the value of labour-power. But substantively it is, in the
> economic sense, never an equal exchange, simply because effectively - in an
> aggregate economic sense - more labour trades for less labour, given that
> workers have no claim to the product they produce. The gains of each party
> to the contract are unequally distributed. If that wasn't so, capitalists
> would not be interested in employing labour, and would invest in property
> assets instead (which increasingly they do). From the point of view of an
> investor concerned with income yield, labour is in a sense a "nuisance",
> since it takes work to conserve, transfer and add value so that property
> title begets income, which is a cost and an expense, but moreover, that
> labour has to be appropriately "organised" in order for the income yield to
> exist at all (the "managerial problem").
> This is a contradiction at the core of capitalism - ideally, capitalists
> would just like to obtain plenty income from the property ownership they
> hold, but in reality this cannot be accomplished, without "somebody"
> working, and human work is in fact "the goose that lays the golden egg".
> Hence the current rhetoric of a return to "servicing the real economy". The
> euphoria of the recent financial boom was, that if you owned sufficient
> capital, you could borrow a multiple of that capital, and get somebody else
> to invest it for you, relatively securely (securitized), so that you could
> make superior capital gains, without having to do anything much for it - the
> profits outweighed the cost of interest payments and fees. That was the
> promise of the "financial products". The disappointment of that is, just
> that this turns out not to be sustainable, except in a few cases of
> exceptionally clever traders, since, in summary, this trade assumes a
> lucrative life of its own, and creates bubbly Ponzi schemes which can be
> popped. Modern capitalists are less and less interested in owning "equity"
> per se, they are interested only in secure income extraction, where "secure"
> means legally enforcible and insured claims to income. In rentier
> capitalism, you don't own a company - rather, you control the use of an
> asset, and you have a legally enforcible and insured entitlement to income
> from that asset. Actually, this is merely the fullest confirmation of the
> theory of surplus-value - capitalists obtain a net income from their capital
> assets, "no matter what its source is".
> The obverse of this is, that Marx says that "piece wages" are the ideal form
> of remuneration from the point of view of investors, since in that case,
> then they only incur a labour-cost, if they get a net income for their
> investment. They buy only and exclusively the labour which creates net
> additions to capital value, and no other labour. Unfortunately, nothing is
> perfect, and the managerial problem persists, since even if the worker
> produces product at piece rates, you still have to sell that product, and if
> you don't sell it, you are no further ahead, because in fact you don't make
> a profit. But even the conservation of value alone, or sales activity, can
> be worked, and often is worked, at piece rates - this is marx's point.
> Commercial piece rates signify, that the reproduction cost of the worker as
> "citizen" is of no relevance whatsoever anymore to the buyer of labour, that
> this is his own responsibility. It is the ideal solution to the "managerial
> problem" insofar as the worker manages himself to produce the extra value
> that creates profit for the capitalist. In East Germany, piece rates were
> also introduced as a solution to the "mangerial problem" and to increase
> productivity, but the state still assumed responsibility for the welfare of
> the worker, a point often forgotten. Some social democrats favour a similar
> system in Europe - the argument being just that there are fair and unfair
> "bonuses". The difficult here is, that if the worker is able to perform this
> work at piece rates, why shouldn't he go into business for himself? If it
> concerns lowly-valued unskilled work, he cannot do it, but if it is skilled
> work for higher income, he can. It depends also a bit on labour market
> conditions (the relative scarcity of different kinds of labour). Obviously,
> such self-employed labour can mean additional costs, which can outweigh the
> costs of just employing wage-labour which you can directly control.
> But labour-power in the real world rarely trades at its value (in fact
> arguments can be given, that it practically cannot usually trade that way),
> and therefore, unequal exchanges can occur as a result of price-value
> deviations in respect of labour-power. In this case - this is the important
> point - the relevant relationship is not between the value of labour-power
> and the value product it creates, but between the value of labour-power and
> its price. This is of concern to capital mainly from a cost and budgetary
> perspective, or from the point of view of labour arbitrage. But from a
> workers' point of view, it matters a great deal in a very direct way, since
> what is at stake is, how he or she is effectively valued him or herself.
> Effectively, the worker is asked to make the valuation of his labour power
> dependent on the "going market rates" within the rule of law, which may rise
> or decline, depending on capital yields in different lines of business. The
> problem from a workers' perspective is, that the valuation of his
> labour-power is made dependent on the income yield prospects of capital
> assets invested, but also, that the valuation of his labour-power is largely
> dependent on his own ability to assert its appropriate valuation, while his
> ability to assert it, is not even fully under his own control. There is, in
> fact, no "objective" calculus though which that valuation can be determined
> or established, it is largely a matter of asserting that valuation with
> negotiating skill - once a bargain is struck, it becomes subject to the law
> of contract. In turn, that means that the valuation of labour-power itself
> becomes partly dependent on the very ability to construct different kinds of
> contracts, and on the assertion of the law of contract. This is the kind of
> thing that Ellen Dannin covers in her books, broadly speaking.
> I don't really have time now to write on this at length, but this is just to
> give you an idea of what it is about.
> Jurriaan _______________________________________________
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Received on Sat Dec 26 18:28:45 2009

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